Twenty-Five Years Ago
The early morning fog misted off the forest floor as the sun peeked through the treetops with a promise of a beautiful day in Northern Washington, giving it an eerie feeling. Damp fog crawled over foliage, rocks and the fallen logs as if it were seeking its prey.
The aroma of a campfire tickled the nose of the hunter sleeping after his night shift watching the camp. Though he needed little sleep, the cold had a way of making him tired and sluggish. James groaned, rubbed his eyes, refusing to move. "You'd better have some fucking coffee ready."
"Good morning to you too, sunshine." His friend, Marino, said in a dry tone poking at the fire with a stick, stirring the hot embers. "Get your ass up and get some. I'm not your maid or momma."
"Prick. Just so you know, my shift was noisy last night. Every damn nocturnal animal out there was snooping around us. Fucking opossums are creepy as shit." Sitting up he shivered, cracking his neck he stood and stretched.
"What? The big bad vamp is afraid of a large rat? They don't bother me."
James turned his dark gaze on his friend. "Screw you, Marino. And they are giant ass rats. If we're out here another night I'll be sure to catch one and put it in your sleeping bag with you. And why is it that animals always gravitate toward you?"
"I guess I'm just charming. " Marino grinned at his friend. He and James had been friends a long time, for at least fifty years, yet they appeared to be in their early thirties. The perks of being a born-vampire, you stop aging by your mid-thirties. If you were a made-vampire, a human turned into a vampire, you stopped aging when the bite occurred.
At sixty, they were young vampires by all standards. They had met in school in the mountainous region of Washington as boys. Vampire children stuck together since they had recently made themselves known a few years prior. Humans were weary or vicious toward them. Witch hunts begun again in a different century. So, they remained together, always having each other's back out of necessity.
Now they were in the woods hunting down a rogue vampire who raped and bled three girls dry, and he had to die. A vampire like this couldn't be allowed to live; he gave them all a bad name. The vampire community worked to hard for too long to allow one of their own to destroy in a blink of an eye. This asshole made humans terrified of their species. Since these crimes happened in their hometown, the sheriff called them to see if they could track this vamp. And they were happy to oblige.
They tracked the bastard for the past four days before killing him last night and burning his body. Sure, they could have caught him anytime, but like cats, they liked to play with their prey. It helped to satiate their need to hunt and kill plus it was a hell of a lot of fun. The fucker knew he was being hunted, which was what they wanted. He was fearful and when you were fearful you made mistakes. When he tried to outsmart them, he walked right into a trap they laid.
After the bastard died, they stayed in the woods one more night, but the damn wildlife was spooked by their presence. After all, they were the most lethal hunters out there. Though the night's leading up to last night, the wildlife seemed normal, so the odd behavior after they killed the vamp, was a bit unsettling. Like James said, the wildlife was drawn to Marino, he had a weird connection to animals that James didn’t understand.
James stretched before pouring a cup of coffee, lifting it to his nose he breathed in the rich aroma. "Shit, this smells like heaven. You make some damn good coffee, Marino, you'll make someone a good wife someday."
"I hope it scalds your throat, you bastard."
James laughed as he blew on the hot liquid, just in case. "Damn, I'm ready to get home. I miss a soft bed and a hot shower."
"Me too, but I prefer a woman in both." He grinned, thinking of his latest fling, a pretty, petite blonde.
"I hear you-"
Their mouths snapped shut, cocking their heads to the east. Neither sensed anything in their vicinity, yet sounds of leaves crunching and twigs snapping had them holding their breath. They were shocked to hear something walking toward them. How did it sneak up on them? With their hearing and sense of smell, it was impossible. Or should have been.
They both stood, sniffing the air, neither detected a predator. They split up, each taking a different path. Armed with a huge hunting knife that could take down an elephant and their fangs, they were ready to pounce on whatever dared to persue them.
Marino stalked, heading to the left, listening as the footsteps came closer. James went right, staying hidden by the trees. Small feet continued to advance, just two feet and they showed no signs of slowing. Didn't this animal sense them or the danger they were in? Wait, what animal walked on two feet? And why the hell was it still advancing on them? Did it not sense them either?
They both stepped out from behind the tree that provided cover for them, knives ready they stopped, their eyes wide and stared. Slowly they turned to look at each other in shock, then back to the small child that stood before them.
A little girl of about six looked at them with huge brown eyes in a filthy, raggedy dress and bare feet. She didn't move, only glanced between both men deciding whether they would hurt her. Her eyes landed on their knives she took a slow step back.
"Fuck, Marino, put the knife away." James quickly sheathed his blade, inspecting the small trembling girl. He extended his hands out showing her there was nothing to fear.
Marino also put away his knife and knelt, figuring they'd seem less scary if they were closer to her height. At six-four, they must have seemed like giants to her. He held out his hand to her. "It's okay sweetheart, we won't hurt you. Are you lost?"
James snorted at his question. "Of course she's lost, she's not just out for a stroll." He too lowered himself to the ground. "Where are your parents, honey? Do you need help finding them?"
Her large doe eyes watched the two with intensity and curiosity. She took one small step closer to them and stopped. Her hair was matted, caked with dirt, leaves and twigs and whatever the hell else was in the woods.
"Shit, she looks like she's been out here a damn long time. She doesn't even have a coat or any fucking shoes on."
Looking down at her dirty feet, James grimaced. "Damn. She's gotta be freezing." He stood and she flinched. "Well, fuck this shit. Sweetheart, we're not going to hurt you, okay?" He made a move for her and she spun around to run when James swept her up in his big arms.
She screamed like she was set on fire, but he held on while she bellowed, kicked and clawed at him to get free.
Marino walked up and touched the girl's face. "Shh, sweetheart, it's okay. We're going to help you, it will be okay." She turned her head and bit his finger. "Sonofabitch!" He pulled his hand back as James laughed. The girl stopped fighting James when he laughed. Frowning at him she cocked her head, craning her neck to see his face.
He winked at the dirty child in his arms. James shifted her against his body so he could see her face and he smiled. "Good girl, I've wanted to bite him on occasion too. Let's get you warm, baby." He walked over to the fire and sat down with her. She squirmed to get free, moving closer to the flames. She reached out and stuck a finger in the fire and screamed once again, falling back into James's big body when a flame licked her finger. "Shit, baby, you can't touch it." He looked at her little finger that already had a welt forming on it. "Dammit, Marino, give me some water to clean her hand."
Marino squatted down in front of the girl with a clean rag and a bottle of water. James held her hand out to him as he poured cold water on her finger and wiped the dirt away with a rag. Carefully, he dabbed the burn. She hissed in a breath, but let him tend to her finger, watching his every move. "You know, maybe we should also clean up our language. She is a kid, you know." Marino looked up at her and grinned as she scowled at him. "See, not so bad. But we're going to have to do more than pour water on it, sweetie."
James pulled her into the warmth of his body shielding her frail body from the chilly morning while Marino held her small hand in his. "I promise this won't hurt, okay? Nod if you understand what I'm saying." Marino waited until she gave the smallest of nods. Grinning at her, he took her only dirt-free finger and placed it in his mouth and licked it. His tongue caressing the raw tip of her finger. She frowned when he drew her finger into his mouth. When he pulled her finger out, Marino showed it to her. "See, good as new. Now, no more touching fire, got it?"
Nodding, she took her finger back and looked at it, inspecting it from all angles. Offering Marino a small smile, she remained in James's protection.
"Well, damn, James, I just got a smile from this little beauty." He winked at her and stood while she burrowed into James.
"Here, sweetheart," James said as he reached over and grabbed the blanket on his sleeping bag and wrapped her in it. He pulled her back into his body to offer warmth from his body and the fire. "Hey man, get her some socks, her feet must be freezing."
Marino dug through his backpack and pulled out a pair of socks. He kneeled in front of her he picked up each foot and pulled his huge socks on her. They went half way up her little leg, but that was a good thing, she was ice cold.
He sat back on his feet and looked up at James. "Man, she is thin. She looks like she hasn't eaten in quite a while. And we didn't bring much real food with us. I think I have a granola bar and maybe some nuts left."
What the fuck? Is she lost or was she dumped out here? James said in Marino's head, a talent all vampires all possessed.
No damn clue, but she is skin and bones and filthy as hell. She's been out here a while. It's another couple day's walk out of here and we don't have enough to feed her... not human food anyway.
I know. James rubbed her arms over the blanket trying to get her blood moving again. Why don't you take her and I'll go hunt something up. Protein should do wonders for her.
Let me give her something to hold her over. We need to give her some of our blood too. I'll have to knock her ass out for that though. Marino grabbed his backpack and rummaged for a granola bar, opening one end, he held it out to her. She pulled back, settling herself deeper into James's arms. Marino chuckled and took a small bite to show her it was safe to eat.
Shifting her gaze from Marino to the food he held to her, it was just too much of a tempataion to refuse. She pulled her hand out of the warm blanket to accept his offer. She brought it to her nose and sniffed the granola bar before she took a nibble. As she chewed her expression changed, her dark eyes lit up, almost smiling at him. When she finished, she handed Marino back the empty wrapper.
"How about a drink, sweetie?" He sipped the water first before handing it to her to copy. "Let me hold you for a while, beautiful. James is going to go get you some breakfast."
With a nod, James handed over the small bundle. We can take turns giving her blood. Between that and the food, she should bounce back fast. "Try not to get bit by her again while I'm gone." He winked at the frail little girl in his friend’s arms.